What is business process mapping?
By: Jill Huettich
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of business process mapping, allow us to briefly relay a story that highlights its importance. In 1999, NASA launched the Mars Climate Orbiter, a satellite designed, in part, to monitor atmospheric dust and water vapor on Mars.
The Mars Climate Orbiter was created to withstand a minimum altitude of 80km. Even so, its trajectory brought it to an altitude of 57km—at which point, it disintegrated.
Of course, this brings up the question, “Why was it at such a dangerous altitude in the first place?” The answer: unit conversion.
As you might imagine, NASA takes tons of precautions and engages in a lot of research before launching anything. However, the organization failed, in this instance, to make sure its measurements were consistent across the board—either exclusively using the imperial system or the metric system.
Because NASA didn’t have a process in place to convert all of the measurements to the same type of system (or that process failed), the organization lost the $193 million satellite, as well as the countless man-hours that went into its creation. Talk about an epic process failure.
And mind you, these were rocket scientists who made this error—although they were undoubtedly extremely intelligent people, nobody is immune from mistakes. That’s one reason business process mapping is so useful. It can help businesses prevent problems, improve processes, and increase efficiency.
So, in this guide, we’ll look at what business process mapping is, where it’s used, and discuss in greater depth why it’s important. We’ll also show you an example of a business process map, so you get a better understanding of it.
What is business process mapping?
Business process mapping is a way of visually defining what a business does, who is responsible for doing it, to what standard the process should be completed, and how to evaluate whether the process was performed successfully.
Because a business process map is visual, it’s a great way to illustrate key concepts to people without getting too technical. That said, the best way to understand what business process mapping, and its impact on business process optimization, is all about is to see an example of it. That’s what we’ll do in the next section.
An example of business process mapping
This is a business process mapping example that illustrates what occurs from start-to-finish, once a customer places an order:
You’ll note that this business process map clearly indicates what actions need to take place, which departments have roles to play, when those departments need to get involved, and what should happen if something goes wrong along the way.
Where is business process mapping used?
Business process mapping is used by all types of businesses for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, a company might use business process mapping for:
- Training Purposes – One of the benefits of a business process map is that it provides a quick, easy way to get the big picture of something. For instance, take the business process map example we gave, which showed what occurs once an order’s placed. Imagine trying to put that in writing to explain to a new hire. While, of course, it can be done, it’s faster for someone to comprehend that same information when it’s displayed visually.
- Best Practices – By mapping out how various processes are performed, businesses can look at specific departments that are handling certain processes well. This gives them the opportunity to incorporate the most successful processes across the entire organization.
- Problem Solving – As we saw with our NASA example, a business process map may have helped NASA prevent the problems it experienced with the Mars Climate Orbiter, saving the organization over $100 million. Having said that, not only can a business process map potentially prevent problems, but it’s also useful for identifying bottlenecks in a process.
5 reasons why business process mapping is important
We’ve touched on some of these briefly before, but to summarize, business process mapping is useful because:
1. Business process mapping is visual.
All things being equal, it’s generally going to be faster for employees to view a diagram of a process, rather than to read a handbook describing it—that is, if they read the handbook at all.
2. Business process mapping aids in understanding.
Because business process mapping offers a general overview of a process, non-experts or people who lack technical skills can easily understand an entire process—without complex explanations.
Additionally, business process mapping allows information to be shared more simply across departments, allowing various areas of the company to learn from each other.
3. Business process mapping reduces errors.
While this article only touched on NASA’s process problems, there are scores of other companies that have experienced financial and even dangerous disasters, because of process failures. When processes are mapped out, these types of catastrophic risks are vastly reduced.
4. Business process mapping increases efficiency.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to pinpoint where there are problems in a process i.e. you know things aren’t working as well as they should be, but you’re not sure what exactly needs to be fixed.
A business process map helps to eliminate this kind of guesswork, giving you a big picture overview. With this overview, it’s easier to identify areas where efficiency can be improved.
5. Business process mapping improves employee morale.
When a team works together on business process mapping, everyone feels important—like they have something of value to contribute to the business as a whole.
As a result, employees are more likely to feel like their feedback is important—which can go a long way toward keeping them feeling good about their working environment. Additionally, creating a business process map is a great team-building exercise that encourages collaboration among coworkers.
Now that you know the reasons business process mapping is so beneficial for businesses, you may be wondering how you can incorporate business process mapping into your own workplace. We recommend beginning with a business process mapping tool built to map out business processes, like MindManager.